Despite recent criticism that Kuwait has failed to support its tourism industry, the Gulf state has put in place a long-term strategy to develop the sector, the Middle East head of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) told Arabian Business.
Amr Abdel Ghaffar, regional director for the Middle East at the UNWTO told Arabian Business: “While tourism has not traditionally been considered a strategic development priority by the Government of Kuwait, there have recently been positive signs of change, with the inclusion of tourism in the country’s first long-term socio-economic development plan.”
His comments come following recent criticism from prominent players within Kuwait’s tourism industry that the government was not doing enough to promote the sector or provide the necessary infrastructure for its development.
HE Sheikh Mubarak AM Al Sabah, chairman of Kuwait-based Action Hotels group told Arabian Business that there was “limited tourism in Kuwait” due to a lack of promotional and infrastructural support by the government.
He said: “We are a very liberal country and no different from any other GCC state but we are not promoted. The lack of infrastructure is not there to attract tourists to be a hub.”
The issue has led to heated debate on the ArabianBusiness.com website and calls for more action by the authorities to support the industry.
The sentiment was echoed by Sunil D’souza, a regional travel manager at Kanoo Travel, the largest travel management company in the Middle East, who said “the lack of governmental interest or active participation in the segment… has dragged the tourism into oblivion.”
D’souza said he believes it was time for the Gulf state to put in place a serious strategy to develop the sector and to attract more international visitors.
However, Ghaffar said this was already underway and “includes the establishment of a General Tourism Authority, under the umbrella of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, to devise, with the assistance of UNWTO, a comprehensive strategy and action plan for the sustainable development and promotion of the sector.
He said: “In this way, the socio-economic benefits of tourism – particularly in terms of economic diversification and job creation – can be fully realised.”
This refocusing on emphasis on the sector by the government is well overdue as travel and tourism contributes just 3.7 percent to Kuwait’s total GDP and research company Euromonitor International expects this to fall to around three percent by 2019.
It is also expected that tourism related employment will slump from 71,000 jobs in 2009 to 65,000 jobs in 2019. The Euromonitor data showed that in 2009 just over $400m was contributed by incoming tourists to the Kuwait economy.
This is unlikely to change in the short term as in May the Dubai-based research company Proleads reported there are currently more than 470 active hotel projects in the Gulf.
However, only 27, or 5.7 percent, of these were planned in Kuwait, compared to 258 in the UAE, 83 in Saudi Arabia and 35 in Bahrain.